DURING INFERTILITY TREATMENT THE PURSUIT OF PARENTHOOD FAR TOO OFTEN GETS LOST IN THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF TREATMENT. THE DREAM OF HAVING A CHILD IS OFTEN CLOUDED BY THE NEED TO ACHIEVE A PREGNANCY. Fortunately, many women and men do emerge from fertility treatment into the world of parenthood. For some, this uncharted world is a challenge to navigate especially because they went through infertility.
Fortunately, most of the emotions discussed in this article about pregnancy and the transition to parenthood are experienced in small doses and briefly. The feelings that are enduring come from the deep and meaningful love that grows from the experience of being a mother or father. Parenthood is the achievement of deferred dreams and hope. The major feelings expressed by mothers and fathers are joy, relief, excitement, wonder, curiosity and delight that accompany the birth of a much desired child. Yet, for some parents, there may be infrequent “not so wonderful” feelings or thoughts that can intrude upon the parenting experience as a result of infertility.
In the very beginning, pregnancy can stir up all different kinds of feelings—joy at the achievement of a long pursued dream and fear that it will all be taken away (the proverbial waiting for the other shoe to drop). If the soon-to-be parent also had established a large support system through infertility, his or her support structure may no longer be available; it is usually extremely difficult for the infertile friend left behind not to have mixed emotions about the pregnancy. The first visit to the obstetrician’s office can be both reassuring and unnerving. If in regular obstetrical care, the doctor will treat you just like any other patient, which is wonderful. However, to “be like everyone else” is not so wonderful because there is no extra monitoring or attention. To someone used to having blood work or ultrasound on a daily, or at least frequent basis, the “regular” appointment to be set in one month’s time can sound insensitive or just plain crazy. “What do you mean a month? I’ll be back next week for you” is what most people want to say.
TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD
The immediate postpartum period can be bittersweet for many parents. For those parents, the loss of the special status of pregnancy is something to be missed. For others, there is knowledge that there may not be another pregnancy due to medical reasons or age-related reasons.
Bringing home a newborn baby can be very intimidating. Many women and men who have experienced infertility will admit that they have concerns that they should be “perfect” parents. These unrealistic expectations can wreak havoc on new parents. Sleep deprivation, uncertainty, exhaustion, and a host of other feelings accompany many new parents in the first days, weeks and months of their child’s life. If the expectation is that the baby will be a “Gerber” baby and only coo and sleep, a new parent may easily feel inadequate.
Placed on top of these feelings are the admonishments (in a somewhat kidding way) from friends and families of “YOU wanted THIS,” and a new parent may feel that s/he is not entitled to feel anything but gratitude and joy. Realistically, these feelings are very much present, but may not be so obvious at 3 a.m. with an inconsolably crying baby. While everyone wants to be a parent, no one—whether s/he has been through infertility or not—wishes for a colicky or difficult baby.
Sometimes our expectations of ourselves may be raised as a result of the infertility experience. There are huge amounts of guilt when we do not love every minute and aspect of parenting. Certainly, as children grow older parents will express that there are stages of their children’s lives that are less lovely or endearing than others. It is so important that parents develop a realistic inner gauge of what makes a good parent and not just fall prey to being the “perfect parent.” As one mother stated, “I feel like I almost have to nurse my baby until she reaches college to give her every advantage in life.”
Fortunately, this mother had no intentions of doing such a thing, but she did express the concept that sometimes our behavior is driven by feelings, which can be irrational, rather than by good common sense about what is truly in our child’s best interest.
Parents need to remember their own relationships after the baby is born. For couples, it is important to make sure there is time for each other and that the relationship does not always get pushed to the back burner in favor of the baby. This may be a particular challenge for parents of multiples. For both mothers and fathers, making sure that all the relationships in their lives that are important have some time in the hectic first years of parenting is necessary.
THE PRECIOUS CHILD AND THE OVERINDULGENT PARENT
One of the most common concerns expressed by many parents after infertility, is the fear that they will never be able to say “no” to their child. After so much effort, emotion and expense, the child is raised to a “precious” status. Parents have no intention of placing a burden upon their children. However, the “precious child” carries a huge burden. The “precious child” is expected to make the parent’s world a better one. The child is the best at whatever she does—the earliest walker or talker, the gifted artistic one in finger painting, or the most athletic or academic. This can reflect a subconscious
need for the child to fulfill all the wild expectations the parent had of parenting. If the child is able to fulfill these expectations, then the infertility experience in some roundabout way makes more sense. “It was well worth the wait because look at how special our son or daughter is” can be heard expressed by these parents.
This is different from the usual parental boasting. All parents have the right to think that their child is special and particularly lovely, smart, talented or whatever. Where this turns into the “precious” child status is when it is driven by the parent’s need for the child to be extraordinary.
Fortunately, most parents learn to celebrate their child’s uniqueness and extraordinariness in the child’s own right and not to burden the child with the need to be perfect or extraordinary for the parent’s expectations or to compensate for the pain of infertility. Some parents are not worried about burdening their children but quite the opposite— overindulging the children because they were so wanted and difficult to obtain. For parents who feel like that is the only opportunity they will get for parenting, the desire to set limits may be subsumed by the need to enjoy the experience as much as they can. Other parents may feel the need to protect their children more actively since they have already experienced that life can be unpredictable and hurtful (as evidenced by the infertility experience).
The research data so far do not suggest that parents see themselves as either overindulgent or overprotective. Parents, after infertility, appear to be doing a fine job of parenting. As women and men move on from their pursuit of parenthood to actual parenthood, the need to be aware of complex and conflicting feelings is important. After infertility, parents will have the same mixed bag of feelings just like anyone else—happy, mad, glad and sad.
Parents after infertility get to be the same as everyone else. It is the love for our children that makes the ride worthwhile and it is that same love which allows us to give them wings to make them individuals that grow up for their own journeys.